PITTSBURGH — In a rare moment of unity between the two major political parties, Democrats and Republicans in Pennsylvania enthusiastically welcomed President Joe Biden’s decision last week to forgive much of the student debt of individual borrowers.
And how it will affect their party’s chances in November’s midterm elections.
For Democrats in Pennsylvania, it’s promises made, promises kept for Biden, an energizing victory that allows party foot soldiers to tell an entire generation of voters they have their backs. Many of those Democrats had also been warning their own party for months that failure by the president to cancel some student loan debt would impact their midterm chances in a crucial cycle.
For Republicans in Pennsylvania, this is just another source of evidence in the laundry list they’re building to claim that Democrats are reckless spenders, tapping into the uncertainty of America’s economic future. warning that it will be worse for young people when the bill comes due. They hope to offer political home to those who think it’s unfair to cancel debt when so many people don’t have it or have already repaid their loans.
The race to mobilize voters around the issue begins now, and for NextGen America, the advocacy group that aims to register and activate young voters, it’s the result of the efforts of an entire generation. Activists in the group have sent more than 17,000 digital letters to the White House asking for student loan assistance.
Pennsylvania State Executive D’Angelo Virgo says it’s no secret that voters went to the polls to vote for candidates who supported student debt action, and said local organizers were excited to share the news with young people ahead of November.
“We’ve been talking about the student debt crisis for years, and this thing that just came out of the White House — out of the Biden administration — is huge,” Virgo said. “And especially with the election so close, we won’t forget that when we go to the polls in November.”
In a highly anticipated decision, the Biden administration canceled $10,000 in federal student loan debt for people with incomes below $125,000 a year or households earning less than $250,000. Borrowers who received federal Pell grants got an additional $10,000 forgiveness.
Pennsylvania Republicans spoke out, en masse, with stark warnings about the decision, seeking to convince voters it was unwise in times of economic constraint.
Asked what the GOP candidates should say to counter the Democrats’ victory lap, Michael Straw, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Senate Republican campaign committee, said the burden had simply shifted to middle-class families and lower to pay over time. It will also exacerbate inflation, he said, and Americans will see it as Democrats acting irresponsibly during an economic crisis “in an attempt for short-term political gain.”
“Middle-class families are struggling to pay their bills and President Biden and the Democratic Party just gave them more costs to consider at the kitchen table,” Straw said. “Democrats should fear this backfires on him.”
Political analysts across the country have for months dissected the potential election impacts of canceling student loan debt. Sam Workman, director of the Rockefeller School of Policy and Politics at West Virginia University, said the effect may be felt in turnout, rather than party change, but risks being designed to way to deepen “the gap between those who choose to go to university and those who do not. College graduates were already more likely to identify as Democrats and vote accordingly, he added.
The impacts of canceling student debt are more likely to be a theme in the race for the US Senate than in the contest for governor of Pennsylvania, as the federal government leads the way in the effort.
Republican Mehmet Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon and longtime TV celebrity, chimed in on the ruling, saying student loan debt forgiveness costs billions and is “unfair to those who have properly repaid their debt.
“Instead of funding solutions like (vocational and technical education) or low-income education programs, Biden is caving in to the radical left,” Oz said on social media. “(Democrat John) Fetterman says he’s for the working class, but it hurts them the most.”
Joe Calvello, a spokesperson for Fetterman’s campaign, said the candidate had made it clear that student debt cancellation needed to happen, “especially for people in trouble.” If the government can give tax breaks to the wealthy, it can do it, Calvello said.
But Fetterman also wants to help people who didn’t go to college and supports increased investment in career and technical programs, Calvello added.
“John also knows that the cost of a college education is way too high and needs to come down,” Calvello said. “He supports efforts to ease that burden for young people in Pennsylvania, such as making two-year community and technical colleges tuition-free.”
Some of the most progressive Democrats have called for more student loan forgiveness and said — since Biden’s campaign pledge of $10,000 — that might not be enough.
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In a fundraising email to supporters after Biden’s announcement, the campaign of Summer Lee, the Democratic congressional candidate in the 12th District, said debt cancellation will “change lives” and is a victory for people across the country, but added, “This isn’t the end of our fight, and that’s why, as a congressman, Summer will work for the complete cancellation of student loans .
When asked if Biden had gone far enough, Virgo said it was worth celebrating and specifically noted the $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients as something that “will make a difference in the lives of many people “. The money will flow back into the economy, he said, and give people more flexibility with their money.
Although politicians at the state level in Pennsylvania aren’t usually as involved in the issue of student debt, that doesn’t mean they aren’t monitoring the impacts.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, called it “reckless Biden redistribution” and said it would only fuel the ongoing inflation crisis.
“It is precisely this kind of irresponsible government spending that brought us here in the first place,” Mastriano wrote on his social media.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, meanwhile, talks about his own actions as Pennsylvania’s attorney general to deal with the student debt crisis and aired a TV ad touting his office’s settlement that canceled the debt of those who took predatory loans from a specific company.
“These days it’s hard enough to be a nurse without someone trying to rip you off. Josh Shapiro, he’ll take anyone to do the right thing,” Alexis Miller said in the announcement. Miller earned a nursing degree on a student loan from the company.